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Handling Unemployment

Our generation switches jobs more than any generation before us. A recent Gallup poll reported that 21% of millennials changed jobs in the last year, which is more than 3x the rates for older Americans. I couldn't find statistics for gen-Z, but sources point at those rates being even higher.

Not to mention layoffs -- the 2023 tech layoffs took more than 240,000 jobs across startups and the biggest Fortune 500 / FAANG companies (now we're supposed to call them MAMAA apparently).

My own tech job is experiencing some turmoil with a major buyout that's been in the works for over a year and a half. My co-workers have been leaving in droves, jumping ship before the boat catches fire.

I guess I am gen-X at heart, because I couldn't convince myself to leave early. For the most part I enjoy my job and if nothing else, I am pretty good at it. I've been passively resisting the possibility of layoffs by refusing wholeheartedly to update my resume, attend interviews, or practice my whiteboarding skills.

But with my company hosting a "how to navigate layoffs" workshop next week and rumors of drastic cuts of entire departments, I've decided it's time to face the music.

Whether you've been laid off, fired, or quit of your own volition, here are some steps to take.

(If you know ahead of time) Download all of your pay stubs and employee information you can find, and send it to your personal email.

You never know when you might want to look back on this information, or if you might need it to prove to a new employer what your salary was before. (We use Workday at my office, which has a handy "download all" option for a user profile.)

(If you know ahead of time) Change all of the default contact information to point to your personal contact email address and phone number.

Update any sites you may need to access outside of your job -- including 401k, RSA, HSA/FSA, and health insurance access, just to name a few.

(If you know ahead of time) Download and send yourself your company's severance policy.

Although they will communicate this to you if the time comes, it's good to know ahead of time and have an idea of what to expect. You don't want to think "oh, I'm sure I'll get 6 months of pay" and then realize you don't get any. There is no legal minimum severance policy, though usually it entails your regular pay for some period of time (ex: 1-2 weeks severance per year you worked at the company). It may also include help paying for COBRA health insurance coverage for some period of time.

Update your resume.

I know, I know, you've heard it a million times, but that's only because it's true. You will forget what you worked on at your previous job so quickly -- just think of the last time a coworker asked you for more information on a code change or paper or project from a year ago. Beyond your likely 1-page resume, I also recommend keeping a scratch document where you can write out more details about a handful of projects for when you interview. Which parts of the project did you tackle? What did you learn from it? Were there any stories that clearly show you being a leader, team player, etc.?

(If you were laid off) Apply for unemployment benefits the day you are laid off.

Receiving severance pay does NOT impact your eligibility for unemployment pay. Unemployment pay varies state to state, but for example in Massachusetts it is roughly 50% of what your previous take-home pay was, up to a maximum of $1,033/week as of 2023. You can usually apply for unemployment online through your state website. You then typically have to request your unemployment benefits every single week to receive payment (to confirm that you are still unemployed and your situation has not changed).

Figure out how to get health insurance coverage as soon as you can, if you had it through your employer.

Health insurance is insanely expensive, so this may be the worst task on the checklist. In general there are two options for getting health insurance:

  1. Enroll in a Marketplace plan: You have 60 days after losing your health insurance through your employer to select and sign up for a self-paid plan through the government. (Otherwise, in general you can only sign up for the plan at the beginning of the calendar year.)

  2. Enroll in COBRA coverage: This allows you to stay on your employer-provided plan for typically up to 18 months after you leave the job, but you'll have to pay the full premium that your employer plus yourself was previously paying (assuming that your employer was helping pay for or fully paid the premium). There's also usually a fee beyond that premium, as well. This is usually not the cheapest option (unless part of your severance includes help paying for COBRA), but if you were close to meeting your deductible or had a particular expense covered that you need to utilize, this may be the right choice.

Make a new budget!

Your income has changed, your expenses have changed, so too must your budget. If your savings were low or your expenses were high, you might need to re-evaluate your spending for the short-term. Perhaps today isn't the day to update your laptop from college to an M2.

Decide what to do with your old accounts.

Whatever you do, do NOT forget about all the money you diligently saved up with your old employer! For a 401k, you can usually either leave it there (if > $5k), roll it over into an IRA, roll it into your new employer's 401k account, or cash it out (which comes with a 10% penalty still).

Take a breathe, take a pause, and consider all paths forward.

Have you always wanted to teach English in another country? Go back to school and pick a different career path? Travel the world in a camper van? Whether by choice or by unfortunate circumstances out of your control, you are at a crossroads and have time to think about what you liked and didn't like about your previous job. If your friends have only ever heard you complain about it, consider whether it was your team, the company, or the industry that made you unhappy. It's never too late for a career change or to take a break to try something new.

It's worth a note that career centers at many colleges are happy to consult with their alumni and offer career advice, at any point in your life.

The time has come for me to take my own advice, wish me luck with the resume updates and the LinkedIn job search!

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